Many things we enjoy are modern inventions. While many of us can wag our heads and tell the kids what it was like before smartphones and power car windows, we ourselves may be unaware of how recently certain other newfangled contraptions have come into the world, as we cannot imagine life without them. Like vacations.
That’s right, vacations are a new invention. Ever ask a farmer about his vacation? He’ll look at you funny, or maybe laugh. In agrarian societies, which was almost everywhere until the modern era, everybody was a farmer, or worked in the farm economy, and nobody could take time off. Then, when industrialization came along, the “infernal machines” had to be kept producing all the time, and even rest on the Lord’s day was done away with, and whole families worked seven days a week.
Somewhere along the line, it was discovered that a break from work could actually increase productivity in the long run. A rested worker is a stronger worker, happier and healthier. Leisure is an essential element in human culture, and properly developed, does not detract from the output and invention of a society, but enhances it. Now most folks have not only weekends, but whole weeks free to enjoy some leisure, recreation, and travel. But this has become widespread only within the past century.
Most of us cannot imagine life without days off now and then, and vacations periodically. We look forward to these times away not only because they will make us better at what we do to support ourselves and our families, but also for their own sake. Thanks be to God for this gift of our modern era!
Toward the end of RCIA this year, I was trying to compile a list for our neophytes of “Neat Things You Can Do Now That You Are A Catholic.” These are things that we who are Catholic learn about growing up living the Faith in the Church, but don’t really get taught when studying doctrine. There are many, of course; one of them is to find a church for Mass while on vacation. This can require a little work sometimes, but not so much in these days of the internet, for all but the most cartographically challenged. The reward is to find the same thing – Mass, Jesus, the Word, the Eucharist, the Faith -- and some different things: historical church, funnier priest, a congregation that can sing in four parts. And of course, refreshment, light, and peace.
So take your rosary as well as that beach novel, and one pair of long pants for Mass, because prayer and worship are integral parts of our rest and recreation. If you catch yourself leaving these things out of your suitcase, or out of your plans, ask yourself how productive it could be to leave behind prayer when vacationing from work? If being busy is usually your biggest obstacle to prayer, when better to pray than on vacation? Worship of God refreshes us in the worst of circumstances, so how much moreso will it enhance our refreshment in the best?
So, as you approach that tollbooth, realize that the vacation you are enjoying is almost as new an invention as the EZPass. But with apologies to Steve Jobs and his sort, new inventions are not enough to bring us joy. Bless him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures for ever. (Daniel 15:68)